Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1006

Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
Issue #1006
September 23, 2020


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When my brother-in-law died in 2014, his widow asked me to sell his wristwatch, a well-worn Rolex knockoff. I took it to a couple of jewelry shops that promised to buy old stuff at decent prices, and it was summarily rejected. It wasn’t just a knockoff, but a bad one at that, it was badly scratched and, worst of all, it didn’t work. Not even with a new battery.

In the end, it was thrown out.

Now when it comes to wristwatches, I’ve made one on my hand nearly every day since I was 10 years of age; well, except for a couple of hospital visits along the way. I never left home without it, and felt it was indispensable. Since I love gadgets, I focused mostly on chronographs and other types that had extra buttons and extra functions.

Since I bought cheap ones, they never lasted terribly long. After a few years, and a few accidental knocks against walls and doors, they were scratched badly.

When the Apple Watch was released — and they were late to the party as smartwatches go — I thought the things were nice but overpriced. Understand that I had never spent more than $100-150 for a watch. Most of the time I relied at closeouts at discount stores. So I recall once buying a nicely-designed Guess watch for around $35 or so.

After the Apple Watch arrived, I prided myself at owning a $12.88 stainless steel watch from Walmart. Every year or two, I had to change the battery. Walmart would do it for $6.00 or so, far less than your neighborhood jewelry store for the same battery.

Last year, the band broke, and replacing it would cost more than the watch itself. I was tempted to just buy a new one at the nearest Walmart; similar models were now $10.88 or thereabouts. On a few occasions during a routine shopping visit, I looked at the displays and browsed a bit. After a few minutes, I’d go about my business. After a few weeks, I just didn’t bother.

So how would I keep track of time?

Well, there’s my iPhone, the microwave, the stove, my iMac, the Cox cable box. Well, you get the picture. If I needed to know the exact time, I had ready access. I had no real need to deal with an extra appliance, even if it’s a cheap one.

Now the first Apple Watch was largely marketed as a fashion device. At the top of the price ladder, the original highfalutin Apple Watch Edition model listed for $10,000 and could be customized, with the properly fashionable band, at $17,000. It was well in the range of a Rolex, the real one.

The difference, of course, is that a smartwatch, as any electronics gadget, becomes mostly obsolete in a few years as new operating systems and apps pass it by, whereas a high-caliber watch — or any well-designed model — may last years, decades. Sure, not the ones I bought, but that’s largely because I focused on the cheaper stuff that I could actually afford without a loan.

In any case, Apple’s marketing plan moved away from fancy electronic jewelry to a health and fitness focus. Indeed, in a world where CEO Tim Cook is largely thought of as a financial and production guy, the marketing plan for the Apple Watch mirrors his personal lifestyle. He’s also a fitness buff.

Even though paying upwards of $399 seemed quite pricy in an environment where pure fitness gear, such as those from Fitbit, can cost a fraction of that, the Apple Watch began to take off. Each year, sales increases were in the double digits. No other smartwatch maker sells more, and Apple’s sales now exceed the entire Swiss watch industry.

Despite the high price of admission, I see them in very unlikely places, such as on the wrists of cashiers at the nearby Circle K convenience store. Understand that these “essential workers” are barely getting much more than the local minimum wage, yet they somehow manage to set aside enough money for an Apple Watch. All right, many of them might be gifts, and maybe they picked up some extra money at a second job. For those who do not live in the U.S., minimum wage, even at the rate of $15 in some locales, is hardly a living wage, but I’m not going to dwell on the well-known politics about this issue.

In any case, unlike Android smartphones, Apple Watch leads its market year after year. It doesn’t seem as if any other product can touch it, regardless of price. Fitbit is almost an afterthought.

The Apple Watch Series 6 serves as a prime example of how Apple continues to innovate. It’s ECG feature is enhanced with a blood oxygen sensor. The interface is said to be snappier, with a brighter display and faster charging. The initial round of tech reviews essentially confirm all this. Battery life is still a not-so-terrific 18 hours, however, which means the same daily charging routine despite reports of a larger battery.

Of course, when you look at all the things it does, and how well it does them, it makes sense that a fair amount of power is required, although I imagine you can stretch it to a second day if you are careful about which features you use. But then why pay extra for a Series 6? If you can live without the blood oxygen and ECG features, you can get an Apple Watch SE for $120 less.

And, of course, you can spend another $100 and get a version can make and receive phone calls using its built-in cellular hardware. Each year, its dependence on an iPhone is lessened, though you still have to suffer from lost apps and features should you prefer to stick with an Android handset — or no mobile handset. But that seems only a matter of time. I fully expect that a future Apple Watch will be 100% iPhone independent, not because Apple wants to sell fewer of them, but to expand the market for an Apple Watch.

Indeed, aside from the far-larger display, I would not be surprised to see a future Apple Watch largely supplant a smartphone for many users, at least while traveling. A future Apple Watch might also serve as a frontend for a set of AI glasses — or even contacts — from Apple. Such an arrangement might even be far less intrusive than a smartphone, particularly if you’re driving a car and it is programmed to minimize its distraction.

I’m beginning to sound like a sci-fi writer.

In any case, regardless of all the joys of the Apple Watch — and I know Apple prefers not to use the word “the” ahead of its product names — I do not expect to acquire one in the foreseeable future. Sure, I might reconsider if ˆ had the spare change. Its health-related features are clearly important to one of my advanced age. But even then I would have to carefully consider my priorities.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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